Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component. This week we will focus on the fifth aspect of our liturgy: declaring the Word.
WHAT IS DECLARING THE WORD?
When you mention “church” to most people, they naturally have in mind someone standing before them preaching from the Bible. Perhaps for many churches, this is the longest section of the liturgy continuously. Declaring the Word is the section in our service where the public reading of Scripture is present and the exposition of Scripture is clear. Everything in our service flows from or has its foundation in the Bible but there comes a time when a Pastor will preach directly from the Bible. It is the moment in the service where our posture turns from directing our worship towards God to God directing his communication to us. My fundamental contention is that in the preaching of the Word, God speaks.
WHY DO WE DECLARE THE WORD?
Historically, Reformed churches saw the preaching of the Word as one of the most central aspects of the Christian worship service. This is because the Reformers saw a direct link between the preaching of the Word to God speaking to his people. Hence, Calvin notes, “When the Prophet says, by the breath of his lips, this must not be limited to the person of Christ; for it refers to the Word which is preached by his ministers. Christ acts by them in such a manner that He wishes their mouth to be reckoned as his mouth, and their lips as his lips; that is, when they speak from his mouth, and faithfully declare his Word.” Augustine continues in the same manner, ““Yes it is I who admonish, I who order, I who command, it is the bishop who teaches. But it is Christ who commands through me.” “The preacher explains the text; if he says what is true, it is Christ speaking.””
We value declaring the Word because we believe that without the word of God guiding us, we will ineviatebly fall away from God. The Scriptures are a light unto our path, a wonderful source of blessing, and the very “breathed-out” words of God (see Psalm 119 and 2 Timothy 3:16). The Psalmist declares in Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain.” We need the word of God preached to admonish and encourage our souls away from ourself toward God.
We believe that the best way to do this is by systematically preaching and teaching through books of the Bible. There are seasons at Coram Deo that we preach topical sermons, but these are the exception not the norm. We believe that God shapes, challenges, and conforms us into his image by ordinary preaching through books of the Bible. This forces the preacher to speak on topics he may not feel comfortable emphasizing. It also helps the preacher not preach repetitive sermons that simply fit his favorite niche.
To conclude, I believe that the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) provides a helpful summary, “Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is preached, and received of the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be feigned, nor to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; who, although he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God abides true and good.”